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Blue Plate Special: Berkshire Pizzeria offers diverse menu

  • Greg Rowehl holds plant-based Impossible Burgers and fries at Berkshire Pizzeria in Charlemont. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Gaby Rowehl plates up some fresh baked beef empanadas at Berkshire Pizzeria in Charlemont. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Plant-based Impossible Burgers grill on the flat iron at Berkshire Pizzeria in Charlemont. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Plant-based Impossible Burgers and fries are served up at Berkshire Pizzeria in Charlemont. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Fresh baked beef empanadas are served at Berkshire Pizzeria in Charlemont. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Freshly made Charlemont Chips and California Dip at Berkshire Pizzeria in Charlemont. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • WEISBLAT Recorder Staff/Paul Franz



For the Recorder
Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Greg and Gaby Rowehl are transplants. He hails from New York. She was born in Argentina. They are thriving as proprietors of Berkshire Pizzeria on Main Street in Charlemont, however.

For years the Rowehls commuted from New York, where Greg Rowehl designed kitchens. They were introduced to the area by the late Sol Lerner of Hawley.

“Hawley? What’s Hawley?” Greg Rowehl thought when he was first invited for a visit in 1990, he told me in a recent interview.

The two soon fell in love with Franklin County and purchased their own vacation home in Hawley in 1997. The pizzeria came later.

After the previous incarnation of his restaurant closed, Rowehl eyed the empty space in Charlemont with his designer’s eye.

“I thought, ‘For 20 grand, I could throw in some kitchen equipment and have some good pizza,’” he recalled.

“This was just going to be a hobby,” he said ruefully.

The pizzeria opened in 2014. The business grew quickly — and so did the Rowehls’ commitment to the Charlemont area.

Before opening the pizzeria, Greg Rowehl explained, the two loved living in Hawley but didn’t feel like part of the community. Soon they felt ready to move to the area full-time, although Greg Rowehl still does some kitchen design work from home while his wife works six days a week at the pizzeria.

Today, Greg Rowehl said, their favorite part about the business is “the customers, the camaraderie.”

Berkshire Pizzeria has grown both literally and figuratively in its four years in business. Physically, the Rowehls have added space by building a popular deck in the back to enable customers to enjoy the view of the Deerfield River while eating.

The hallway that leads to the deck features one of Greg Rowehl’s favorite parts of the business, its “Art Between the Courses” gallery.

The eatery’s tables are covered with butcher-block paper, and customers are provided with crayons to amuse themselves while waiting for food. Many of the resultant drawings by adults and children are featured in the informal gallery.

The menu of the pizzeria has grown almost as much as the physical structure. From the outset, the Rowehls featured standard fare like grinders, salads and burgers as well as pizza. They have expanded the menu even more since.

In 2015, Greg Rowehl suggested to his wife that she start making a family favorite for customers: her grandmother’s empanadas. These beef-filled pastries are enhanced with onions, spices and olives.

“I thought he was crazy,” Gaby Rowehl said with a smile. “I said, ‘Nobody’s going to know what they are.’ But we put them on the menu, and they have been a success.”

The Rowehls also decided to fry their own potato snacks, known as Charlemont Chips. They serve these with salsa, herb-feta dip, or the classic California onion dip (see recipe below).

In May, they added a menu item known as the Impossible Burger. This plant-based burger looks and tastes remarkably like beef, thanks to an iron-filled molecule known as heme. Heme is found in red meat but can also be found in plants.

The makers of the Impossible Burger, headquartered in Northern California, designed their product to replicate beef. It’s red and soft in its raw form, but is crisped up in frying. It can also be cooked to any desired “beef” temperature: rare, medium or well done.

The burger was originally available only at restaurants in New York and Los Angeles. Greg Rowehl is proud to have brought it to Franklin County. He calls it “the first vegetarian burger I ever had that didn’t taste like sawdust.”

“Some people try it not just because they’re vegetarians but out of curiosity. They like it,” he asserted.

“I’m from Argentina and I like meat,” Gaby Rowehl noted, adding that she approves of the burger.

The Rowehls told me that they are just about finished adding to the pizzeria’s physical layout and menu. This could change, however.

“I come up with 1,000 ideas a day,” Greg Rowehl said with a grin. “Every once in a while one of them is actually good.”

California Dip with Charlemont Chips

Dip

Ingredients:

2 T olive oil

1½ cups diced onions

¼ tsp. Kosher salt, plus ½ tsp. later

1½ cups sour cream

¾ cup mayonnaise

¼ tsp. garlic powder

¼ tsp. ground white pepper

In a sauté pan over medium heat, combine the oil, onions and the first quarter teaspoon of salt. Cook until the onions are caramelized (about 20 minutes). Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Mix together the remaining ingredients and add the cooled onions. Refrigerate. Stir again before serving. “This is best made a day ahead,” Greg Rowehl said, “to allow the ingredients to marry.” Makes four servings.

Charlemont Chips

Ingredients:

2 quarts canola oil

1 lb. Russet potatoes (about 2 large potatoes), scrubbed and rinsed

Kosher salt as needed

Preheat the oil over medium-high heat in a four-quart cast iron Dutch oven. A deep-fry thermometer clipped to the pot should reach 300 degrees.

While the oil heats, line a large mixing bowl with paper towels.

On a mandolin or with a sharp knife, cut the potatoes into 1/16-inch-thick slices and place them in a large bowl of cold water. Pour out the water, rinse with cold water to remove as much starch as possible, and drain.

Carefully add the potato slices a few at a time to the hot oil. Using a spider, constantly move the slices in the hot oil for three to four minutes or until they become golden brown and crispy.

Remove the chips with the spider, allowing some of the excess oil to drain off. Move the finished chips to the lined bowl and shake to remove additional oil. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain the oil’s temperature at 300 degrees, and continue slicing and frying the potatoes in small batches.

When the final batch has finished frying, sprinkle the chips with kosher salt to taste, and shake the bowl to evenly distribute the salt. Remove the paper towels and serve. Makes four servings.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.